Oilers forward Nail Yakupov is steering his focus this summer on his fitness and zoning in on anywhere he sees room for improvement.
“I’m just going to train, train hard, work hard, improve some things and keep looking forward,” he said. “I love this city and the team that I play with.”
After an unfavourable season that saw the forward succumb to an ankle injury in November that sidelined him for eight weeks, Yakupov regained his momentum on the ice.
“I’m trying to enjoy the life and try and enjoy the game and have fun with my teammates, who I play with,” he said. “It’s my favourite game, it’s the only sport I play, I want to push hard — everything. I want to give everything, I want to leave everything on the ice, but sometimes it’s been a really tough time and I really got the opportunity to play. Last couple of weeks have been pretty good… I just try to have some fun.”
As the 2015-16 season comes to a close, the Oilers regrouped once more at Rexall Place to speak to the media about their upcoming summers.
Oilers forward Jordan Eberle was just such a player that reflected on the season that played out for Edmonton this year.
“No one likes losing. We’re all professionals, we’re competitive people, it’s not fun being out of the playoffs and having to sit at home and watch other teams fight for something that you ultimately want to win,” he said matter-of-factly. “I think, when you look back on this season, we’ve definitely made improvements, I know… we’re nowhere near where we need to be but I think, when you look back on our goals-against average, our goals differential, our specialties, we have made improvements and that’s definitely a positive sign. But ultimately, like I said we’re not where we want to be.”
A season that did not see the team finish in a favourable position stirs questions about player changes that may be made in the summer, to which Ederle admitted that changes are inevitable in a business such as this.
“There’s always going to be questions, as with any team, I don’t think it’s really different from any other years. It’s always going to be the same, who’s going to be back and whose not,” he said. “I think when you’re finishing 29th there’s always going to be changes. With that being said, there’s changes throughout every lineup coming in, but ultimately that’s out of the player’s control really. All they can do is play on the way the left and deal with what happens in the summer.”
Connor McDavid came to the Edmonton Oilers with big outside expectations, and even bigger internal ones. The rookie first-overall pick posted 48 points in an injury-shortened 45-game season. He impressed his teammates, even the veteran ones, with how he carried himself through his first NHL season.
“Great person,” said Matt Hendricks. “You couldn’t ask any more of him in that regard, for sure, and I don’t know if you could ask any more of him as a player either. He came into our group this year, into a struggling group, as a young player with a lot of expectations and overwhelmed a lot of us. He’s a heck of a player and a heck of a player to be around and I’m real fortunate to be able to play and enjoy his rookie season with him.”
The players have consistently voiced their pleasure and surprise about his leadership in the room as well. Taylor Hall a week ago said although McDavid is the youngest player in the room, a lot of players look up to him. When asked if McDavid could be a captain some day, Hendricks had no hesitations.
“Absolutely. Absolutely, he could be.”
“That’s not a question for me, but you’ve seen players at his age wear the ‘C’ after their first year or so, but I have no doubt in my mind he’d excel at it,” Hendricks said.
The Oilers finished this season 29th in the NHL, and of course that means plenty of room for improvement for the club that has not made the playoffs since 2006. Patrick Maroon, who was acquired by the Oilers at the NHL Trade Deadline, knows a thing or two about playing meaningful hockey late into and following the regular season, coming from the Anaheim Ducks.
“It’s very frustrating,” Maroon said. “This is kind of weird for me because the past four years I’ve been in the playoffs and playing almost until June every year. Now, leading up to it, you’re kind of like ‘God, I wish I could play, go play that 28 games that you have a chance to win,’ There’s a lot of room for improvement with this team and for us to get there we’ve got to ask ourselves if we can play that 28 games right now against Anaheim, the LAs and all that. I don’t think we’re ready as a team, but I think we’re on the right path.”
Anaheim is among the best in the NHL this season, playoff bound for the fourth straight season. When asked what the biggest difference between Anaheim and Edmonton was, Maroon talked about youth and culture.
“We have a really young team here, so it’s a different culture,” said Maroon. “In Anaheim, we had a lot of older veterans, a lot of older guys so it’s obviously a lot different. That being said, there’s room for improvement everywhere, on the ice, off the ice and being leaders. The coaching staff does a great job of preparing all of us and making sure we’re ready and focused to go out there every game.”
Oilers head coach Todd McLellan and General Manager/President of Hockey Operations Peter Chiarelli will both address the media today. You can watch it live right here at edmontnooilers.com or on the Oilers Mobile App at approximately 2:00 p.m. MDT.
BLOGS & FEATURES
- BLOG: Maroon looks to lock down his spot
- BLOG: Nurse bounces back from scary incident
- BLOG: McLellan on Farewell Rexall Place
- BLOG: Pouliot practices
- BLOG: Hall joins Team Canada
- BLOG: Friday practice updates in Leduc
- PRACTICE | Friday in Leduc
- PRACTICE RAW | Taylor Hall
- PRACTICE RAW | Patrick Maroon
- PRACTICE RAW | Darnell Nurse
- PRACTICE RAW | Todd McLellan
“Obviously, there’s an opportunity here for me to grow as a player, grow as a leader,” said Maroon. “Playing with Connor too is an opportunity for me to succeed in this league and an opportunity to put up some good numbers.”
Putting up good numbers is something Maroon has done since being acquired from the Anaheim Ducks at the NHL Trade Deadline. Maroon has 13 points, including seven goals, in just 15 games for the Oil.
“He’s one of those unique players that can play physical and tough and have the size, but still complement high-end skill players, whether it’s finishing or making plays. That’s what’s really unique about him,” said Oilers Head Coach Todd McLellan. “He’s got a lot of experience from Anaheim, doing that with (Corey) Perry and (Ryan) Getzlaf. I think that he has the opportunity to have a really healthy, long career here with us. His summer is going to be extremely important. I think he’s beginning to realize this would be a real good landing spot for him long-term so that’s a great thing.”
For Maroon, he wants to keep his good situation going. He didn’t like the way things ended in Anaheim, in terms of his demotion down the lineup. His focus going into the summer is locking that spot down with hard work.
“If the opportunity is there and I’m on the left side with 97 then I’ve just got to run with it. I can’t look back,” said Maroon. “I’ve got to perform, I have to be ready and that’s just playing good and performing and putting the numbers up you’d like to put up. If you don’t do that then you’ll see yourself drop pretty far in the lineup. I don’t want that to happen again. It happened in Anaheim, and I don’t want that. I want to be a role player on this team moving forward. It’s a big summer for me. I can come here and prove to them I want it. You can always improve on things.”
“It didn’t work last year in Anaheim, so what is he going to change, what is he going to do different that he can keep that spot?That will be the challenge,” said McLellan. “I think he’s a great kid. He fits our team well. He’s got an energy, a passion and a smile all the time, he takes every moment to heart and wins and losses affect him emotionally. We need more of that around here.”
Some may have been surprised to see Darnell Nurse skating with the team Friday morning.
The Oilers defenceman took a puck to the throat in the Oilers win over Vancouver on Wednesday. He left the game and did not return, taken to the hospital as a precaution and to determine the extent of the damage. And yet, there he was taking his normal rotation with Adam Pardy as the Oilers skated in Leduc.
“He worked hard. He didn’t show any indication of suffering from anything,” said Oilers Head Coach Todd McLellan. “The doctors have, from what I understand, cleared him so if he’s ready to play, we’ll play him. He is a tough customer and I think that’s part of what makes him an attractive player. That’s a real good characteristic to have.”
Nurse’s throat was swollen after the incident and his voice was a little raspier than normal on Friday, but he looked ready to play when the Oilers wrap up the season on Saturday in Vancouver.
Nurse is just happy he wasn’t seriously injured, as taking a puck to the upper body, face and neck area is no laughing matter.
“It is scary because you feel like you could eat your Adam’s apple,” said Nurse. “You get hit in areas like that and it’s kind of scary. You just want to make sure you can breathe and, obviously, the medical staff we have with the team and the medical staff at the hospital helped me out a lot. I’m lucky. It could have been a lot worse than it was and I’m fortunate to come out just a little swollen with a couple of vocal cords messed up.”
Wednesday night saw 160+ Oilers alumni and current Oilers staff and players recognized and join in on the Farewell Rexall Place celebrations.
Oilers Head Coach Todd McLellan was one such individual that was greeted by a roaring — almost deafening — applause when he stepped out onto the carpeted runway that lead to his spot that was positioned around centre ice.
“I was a [small] piece of that ceremony and that’s just the way you look at it,” he said. “It’s never about me, it’s never about the coaches and in fact it’s not even about this year’s team. That night, that was about the building in the past. I was lucky enough to be part of it. I am truly honoured to be an Oiler.”
Though McLellan said he didn’t necessarily notice the difference between the applause for one member versus another, he was certainly one to experience the intense passion the fans exhibited throughout the building.
“It was a goosebumps moment because of the building and the people that were around me,” he said. “And the fans showing their appreciation, I sat in that chair and I looked around, I tried to find an empty seat and you couldn’t. And I think that speaks volumes of the fans. It’s as much about them as it is about the 150-200 coaches and players that were out on the ice.
Oilers forward Benoit Pouliot joined his teammates on the ice in Leduc, Friday, after a month-long hiatus due to a shoulder injury he sustained.
“He’s not playing, he won’t play in Vancouver so his year is basically over,” said Oilers Head Coach Todd McLellan.
The 6-foot-3, 200-pound winger, who injured his shoulder in a game against the New York Islanders on February 28, wanted to enjoy one last skate with his team before the end of the season.
“He wanted to get back on the skates and see what it was like to handle the puck and shoot it a little bit with his injury,” said McLellan. “Obviously, he has improved to the point where he could do that but he’s certainly not ready to play.”